Gates.jpg

Pat Buchanan Hearts Robert Gates

In Human Events today, Pat Buchanan has a column on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s speech ten days ago at West Point.  Pat says Gates is onto something–then poses a few good questions.

Excerpts:

“(A)ny future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it,” Robert Gates has just told the cadets at West Point…. 

[H]is position implies a new foreign policy…. 

[W]hat are we doing with 28,000 troops in Korea..?  Why not withdraw the U.S. troops, let South Koreans take their place and sell Seoul the weapons to defend itself, while restricting our role, should the North attack, to air and naval support…? 

[E]ven as Gates was speaking, Pentagon officials were talking of using Marines to evict Chinese troops, should they occupy disputed islands in the South and East China seas.  Among the claimants to the islands in the South China Sea are Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei….Why should holding or recapturing these islands, none of which is ours and almost all of which are uninhabited, be the Marine Corps’ job..? 

As for Europe [where we still have some 50,000 troops], the Red Army went home decades ago….As President Eisenhower urged JFK 50 year ago, we should bring U.S. troops home and let Europe man up to its own defense.

As I say, those strike me as good questions.

Over to Ricochet.  Care to suggest any answers?

  1. Aaron Miller

    In the words of General Patton, “I don’t like having to pay for the same real estate twice.” Whatever bases we close this year cannot be simply reopened the moment we need them ten, twenty or fifty years from now. Keeping foreign bases costs money. Establishing them costs lives.

    That doesn’t settle the issue, but it’s an important consideration. Let’s not pretend we know where our soldiers will be fighting even five years from now, let alone twenty.

    If Steyn’s right about current demographics, at least some European nations which are currently U.S. allies will be enemies within a generation or two.

    Unfortunately, our military readiness cannot exist separately from our domestic policies. We have dug ourselves into a financial hole. But let’s start with the programs and agencies that cost trillions. The billion-dollar stuff can wait.

    We are by far the world’s dominant superpower, military and economically. That means we’re the country everyone loves to hate. Closing bases and reneging on alliances won’t keep us out of war.

    I’m open to closing bases, but I’m inclined to be skeptical.

  2. Michael Labeit
    Stuart Creque:  ”The Red Army went home decades ago”

    Ask the Georgians how very secure that withdrawal made them.  Turns out that Russian tanks can go in both directions — and don’t seem to find national borders much of an impediment. 

    Peter Robinson:

    As for Europe [where we still have some 50,000 troops], the Red Army went home decades ago….As President Eisenhower urged JFK 50 year ago, we should bring U.S. troops home and let Europe man up to its own defense.

    Emphasis mine.

    Furthermore, the Russo-Georgian fiasco was the fault of both the Kremlin and the Georgian government. In fact, it is still disputed as to who initiated the skirmish. But do you really think that Putin, Medvedev & Co will order an incursion into Eastern and Central Europe once the U.S. Army is gone? Germany is a vacation locale and a dream post for U.S. personnel, not a strategic position the occupation of which contributes to our national defense.

  3. The Mugwump

     Forward deployment of American military might keeps our enemies honest.  Having military bases abroad acts as a tripwire.  It informs potential enemies that to cross the line invites an American counter-response.  If I were president, I would seriously consider inviting Georgia into NATO, but I doubt the Europeans have the stomach for such a move.

  4. Hang On

    The only reason to help Georgia would be to poke a finger into Russia’s eye. Why do you want to do that? What is to be gained other than showing that you can poke a finger in Russia’s eye? And Russia is a nuclear power whose help we need on other issues.We’ve handled Russian relations pretty badly since the end of the cold war.

    The other thing you’ve got to remember is that Germany will being moving closer and closer to Russia. Why? Energy. Making trouble with Russia over something as trivial as a border dispute with Georgia will affect relations with Germany.

    The reason for 28,000 troops in South Korea has as much to do with Japan as it does Korea. Japan is the key to the area. Korea is simply the front line. Eventually, we will figure out how to cut a deal with Taiwan going to the mainland with Hong Kong-like assurances and a Korean reunification, but in the mean time 28,000 troops in Korea is a good idea.

  5. Aaron Miller
    Michael Labeit: Buchanan’s very sensible questions amount this: Why can’t nations ultimately be made to defend themselves?

    For the same reason that standing back while another person is mugged is foolish (apart from moral considerations). When you allow crime to go unpunished, you encourage it.

    What begins as someone else’s problem can quickly become our problem. America will not go untouched by foreign conquests.

  6. flownover

    Come on guys, Buchanan has been an isolationist for some time hasn’t he ?

    As for Gates and strategy and all the other wishful thinking out there, what is the difference without a CINC ?

  7. Michael Labeit
    Aaron Miller

    Michael Labeit: Buchanan’s very sensible questions amount this: Why can’t nations ultimately be made to defend themselves?

    For the same reason that standing back while another person is mugged is foolish (apart from moral considerations). When you allow crime to go unpunished, you encourage it.

    What begins as someone else’s problem can quickly become our problem. America will not go untouched by foreign conquests.

    The only people that are being mugged here are American taxpayers. We’re subsidizing a portion of European and South Korean defense, just like we subsidize a portion of European healthcare. These are not defenseless nations that we’re protecting. These are modern, industrialized states. You think the tax you pay on April 14 is better served by keeping armored divisions in Germany than being in your bank account?

  8. Michael Labeit
    flownover: Come on guys, Buchanan has been an isolationist for some time hasn’t he ?

    Well, what about his argument? Should who he is have any bearing?

  9. Daniel Frank

    Peter, I agree with Buchanan’s arguments regarding our need to make feckless allies pay for their own defense.  Nevertheless, I find Gates’ and Buchanan’s positions both suspicious, Buchanan’s because he doesn’t seem to think we have national interests or global responsibilities, and Gates’ because he doesn’t seem to think we should project force to defend those interests.

    The right position is to identify our real, pragmatic national interests (including our responsibilities as defender of the global commons), and project force in a determined and ruthless manner, but only in pursuit of those interests.

  10. Karen

    I think what Gates is suggesting is that warfare is changing to the extent that land forces will be much less effective in dealing with current threats compared to a strong, maneuverable Navy and Air Force . It’s important that we have troops forward deployed in Germany, so that we can react quickly as events change, but let’s also not forget that Landstuhl and Ramstein are vital to treating and caring for our wounded. Our host countries also cover some of the costs of US bases. I don’t think cost savings is the primary factor in proposing a drawdown of troops abroad, it’s a sign that the way we fight is evolving. 

  11. KC Mulville

    I can’t help but wonder what Professor Rahe thinks here. He asked the (basically) same question about Libya a week ago, and I imagine the responses to that thread are still percolating.

    I wonder … does Buchanan read Ricochet?

  12. David Nordmark

    I think it ultimately would be a good thing for these societies to look after more of their own defense. Too many of these countries take America’s generosity for providing a security shield for granted. What’s more, it winds up enfeebling once strong allies in the long term. I can’t help but think about what’s happened to the Royal Navy, particularly with it’s recent scrapping of the Ark Royal. Would the UK have done this if it didn’t feel America has its back with its Navy? I doubt it. And what goes for the UK goes 10 times for everyone else. America has to be more forceful in watching out for its own interests and insisting that other countries pull their own weight militarily.

  13. Hang On

    Seems to me this all boils down to: What do you do about free riders? Should you even try to do anything about them? Do alliances lead inevitably to free riders?

  14. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Alas, alliances do lead inevitably to free riders.

  15. flownover
    Michael Labeit

    flownover: Come on guys, Buchanan has been an isolationist for some time hasn’t he ?

    Well, what about his argument? Should who he is have any bearing? · Mar 7 at 12:20pm

    Good point. I am simply arguing that without a clear direction as to anything militarily, the decision to stay or go will never be made . Pat Buchanan is repeating his usual trope about isolationism and it’s to his discredit in my opinion. I don’t think we can turn our back on the world, regardless of how stupid it may be acting. It is not in our best interests. Besides being the world’s policeman, we are also saddled with being it’s parent. 

    Now let’s talk about relativistic sovereignty…..

  16. Hang On

    Paul A. Rahe,

    If free riders are inevitable, then should you continue to let the free riders have their free ride or at what point should you pick up your marbles and go home? What criteria should be used?

  17. Michael Labeit
    Hang On: Paul A. Rahe,

    If free riders are inevitable, then should you continue to let the free riders have their free ride or at what point should you pick up your marbles and go home? What criteria should be used?

    I don’t think free riders are inevitable. This is essentially a cost problem. We incur a greater cost and the free riders enjoy the benefits. Assuming these defense costs need to be paid and that these expenditures contribute to the defense of the free riders in question, not an insignificant value to them, if we refuse to pay the costs then the free riders will be compelled to incur them.

  18. Jan-Michael Rives
    Peter Robinson:  If so, why didn’t we do more to help Georgia when Russia invaded?  

    Because George W. Bush’s political capital was entirely spent by that point, and the godless Democrats in congress couldn’t care less about other countries.

  19. Chris Johnson

     Whatever we do (and I think we should reduce our deployments to Korea and Germany), will have to be done very slowly.  It is being done already, when I look at the numbers.

    Considering Korea (with a hostile enemy across the DMZ) as a separate issue, Europe could be minimized, over time.  For now, our defense of Europe provides the underpinnings for their socialized societies and they cannot quickly adapt.  If they have to provide for more of their own defense, they will have to find the money (and will), somewhere, and that will take some time.  Besides, the greatest threats to Europe are energy insecurity and internal threats and our troops don’t help them with those.

    Signalling that we intend to do this should be adequate, for now.

  20. Nickolas

    I think Buchanan is mischaracterizing Gates speech to advance his long held arch-isolationist agenda. It’s no surprise he would do that.

    Buchanan is almost in a class by himself as an isolationist. He does the 1930′s isolationists one better. Even knowing what we know now he doesn’t think we should have gotten involved in WW II.

    Many of the cadets Gates addressed will be heading for Iraq and Afghanistan. Would he really tell them he thinks those wars are mistakes as he sends them off to fight them? Knowing they must lead soldiers and that some may die there?

    Also, Gates is currently in Afghanistan saying we will be there beyond 2014 and speaking about negotiating a security treaty.

    Here’s the transcript of Gates speech.

    It seems to me that Gates is simply a proponent of sea and air forces over land forces. That is an old debate in defense circles in the US. On the world stage the US has historically been a naval power first and foremost, and since WW II also an air power. Before WW II our land forces were virtually non-existent.

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In